Annette Höher-Bäuerle on what it takes to keep a promise

A year and a half ago, we made a promise to our customers. Usually, in case our customers are not happy when they arrive in their hotel, they tend to tell us only after their holiday. This makes it quite difficult to help them while they’re on holiday and provide them with the best time of the year. So our new 24-hour Promise was simple: If, upon arrival at your destination, things weren’t as we promised to you and you would let us know, we would aim to resolve this within 24 hours. If unable to do so, our customers could choose between a refund and the next Thomas Cook flight home, or choose to stay and receive a voucher worth 25% of their current holiday.

There were several reasons to do this: it was time to put the customers first and make sure they knew about it. It was time to empower our staff and help them help our customers. It was time to get innovative. So here are the steps we took:

 

Leadership Communication & Engagement

To implement the right cultural change, having a CEO-driven leadership was vital to driving this customer-led initiative. Based on our initial analysis of previous complaint data, this promise to our customers could cost us some millions if our customers exploited this and if our teams weren’t sufficiently prepared. Therefore, to allay any fears or doubts, all throughout the process, our CEO reinforced his message that this was going to happen, putting both himself and others under pressure to ensure that customer satisfaction would grow. This served as a strong source of instilling confidence throughout the initial two source markets in which we launched. Within only a couple of weeks we delivered with a core team from customer service, in-destination service, Customer Experience and Finance and blueprint of the concept and tested it in a few destinations.

 

Employee Engagement (Internal & External)

This initiative was also about employee engagement as about customer engagement. In terms of our teams, both customer-facing on the frontline and working in retail, our focus was on building capability and confidence. Our first step was to ensure that clear channels of communication were established with and between our internal teams. Everyone was told what the process would look like, what their roles would be and how we would train and support them.

Throughout the process, employees would receive weekly and monthly updates, as well as transparency on areas that required further improvement. Furthermore, as customer feedback began coming in, this was communicated across the company. By winter 2015, we had held pilots and customer focus groups, during which we received confirmation that this was something customers not only wanted, but it would also help them choose us over our competitors due to this unique proposition.

Our internal colleagues,  of which 1,500 worked as frontline staff at various destinations, were trained to ensure they were equipped with all the tools and techniques they needed to introduce customers to the 24-hour Promise as well as resolve their complaints confidently and efficiently. Moreover, an emphasis was put on proactivity, allowing us to save the customer’s holiday in time.

In terms of employees further afield who were representing our brand, we communicated with all participating hotels prior to launching the 24-hour Promise, explaining the 24-hour promise logo that had begun to appear in brochures and online. All descriptions of our hotels in brochures and online were checked to make sure that we were delivering the most accurate promise of a holiday and set the right expectations by the time summer 2016 arrived.

After a period of push-back and uncertainty it was amazing to see how all the different teams pulled together to deliver the 24-hour Promise to our customers. Especially our in-destination service teams did an awesome job to make this happen and rose above themselves.

Metrics

Measuring our success and progress made for a much more tangible message across the business. As this was about building the right internal culture by being transparent about the progress and results, we used several metrics to do this:

Satisfaction: For the first time we asked our customers directly after they arrived in their hotel if we met their expectations and if not if they needed our support and help. This allowed frontline colleagues to identify complaints and introduce customers the 24-hour Promise.

In-destination complaint handling time: This was one of the main metrics to watch in order to ascertain the effectiveness of the employee’s training and preparations.

Number of vouchers & flights offered

NPS (Net Promoter Score): As the initiative went on, we were able to see a significant improvement of tour operator NPS scores at many of our participating hotels. Both internally and externally, our tour operator NPS scores showed the fruits of our risk.

The 24-hour Promise is in its second year now. We are expanding it to all our source markets, and the number of participating hotels is growing exponentially. Over 85% of problems reported were successfully resolved within 24 hours. We also aim for that 80% of our customers in 2017 stay in a hotel that operates the 24-Hour promise, as this is what differentiates us.

Just as we had suspected, starting the holiday on a strong foot makes for a much better holiday overall. When problems are solved proactively as opposed to retrospectively, the likelihood of a ruined trip is reduced significantly. How much did this promise cost us? About 3 flights and a dozen vouchers so far. Out of 4 million travellers.

Unsurprisingly, putting the customer first can only bring benefit and value in the long-term. By putting pressure on ourselves to do right by our customers, we learned that we could be even better.

Annette Höher-Bäuerle is the Group Customer Experience Director at Thomas Cook, one of the world’s leading holiday companies. She is responsible for the CX Roadmap and Programme across the group, designing the end-to-end customer journey across all areas and functions of Thomas Cook as well as a cultural change programme.